The New Anamorphic

Vilmos Zsigmond predicted a renaissance of anamorphic movies: “The anamorphic format is really perfect and it helps editing (…) you have a close up in the front left and a long shot in the right on the other side, so even if it’s a little out of focus you have the environment in the same shot at the closeup. If you are shooting TV a closeup is a closeup (…) it’s not exiting visual. That’s why I think there is a renaissance happening in anamorphic movies”

I think it’s something we can all wish for as much as for 3D to go away. Companies like Arri and Vantage Film are gearing up for the new aera of filmmaking and anamorphic lenses are popping up everywhere. The Alexa offers a 4:3 sensor format that is designed to capture the light coming through an anamorphic lens and then sends it to the de-squeezing into the digital intestines of the camera.

Vantage Film announced that they are investing € 7 Million in development of new lenses and tools. This represents the largest expansion in the company’s 20 year history. I assume that heir legendary Hawk lenses will be overhauled and optimized for the digital age.

Cooke Optics Ltd is also working on anamorphic lenses. They are planned to be ready by end of 2013 or early 2014, and my guess is they will be front cylinder, classic style Anamorphic primes, with the traditional “Cooke Look.”

Arri/Zeiss are working on a whole new line of anamorphic lenses and introduced some of them to the public already.

Servicevision has a 100mm 2x anamorphic prime (above) and a 36 mm model. Six lenses are planned to be shown at NAB 2013: 36, 40, 50, 64, 80 and 100 mm, with delivery toward end of 2013. The lenses are named Scorpio.

Of course Panavision still has a huge inventory of anamorphic lenses.

I believe we all can be looking forward to more and more production of epic widescreen movies in the very near future.

The Race for the Best Camera is Over

A pile of crap?

Zacuto’s Revenge of The Great Camera Shoot Out has proved nothing. What was the point? It’s unclear.

The main reason I think is this: There was a hidden agenda  to create an uproar in the community of filmmakers – to instigate another revolution. But the revolution is over. All that is clear now is that we have even more tools. And that we don’t have to be rich to buy one of those tools.

But what does it mean? That you can create a beautiful looking movie with an iPhone? Certainly not. It actually proves the opposite: You need a lot of talent and crew including a professional soundstage to make the images look as close as possible to the ones of the expensive counterparts.

It proves to me that you still need talent and money to make a good movie. That’s how it alway has been and that’s how it’s always going to be. If one tool in the chain of tools has gotten cheaper it doesn’t mean you don’t need lights, people to set the lights and more people to control the rest of the environment. Locations have to be rented, production days need to be planned and there is the rest of the crew like sound and makeup. If you would put a Sony F65 into an iPhone it would not turn all the millions of iPhone owners into brilliant filmmakers.

The tools don’t make you a filmmaker. Making a movie doesn’t even depend on which camera you use – you use what you can afford. That’s why RED has so  many fanboys: They based their whole marketing on the idea that a camera automatically makes you a filmmaker. Get an Epic and you are Peter Jackson. I’m sure Peter Jackson can create great movies with any camera.

We have to go back to the basics of filmmaking and when it comes to cinematography it’s about the craft and art of using light and shadow, framing, movement and colors to express a moment in time that is part of a bigger story.

It’s really not about the question how well the GH2 holds up next to the F65. People who still take questions like this serious are lost. The digital revolution in filmmaking is over. Now it’s just filmmaking and creativity. Let’s stop counting pixels and data rates.

An Epic doesn't turn you into Peter Jackson

A visit to Arri Burbank

Snehal Patel and Jan Becker with the Alexa Studio

I finally payed a visit to Arri in Burbank – a visit long overdue since the company and I share the same hometown: Munich. I was invited by Franz Wieser, Vice President of international marketing after a friendly talk at NAB 2012 where we also found out we had common friends and of course – Bavarian roots. He pointed out to me that Arri is always open to help anybody who picks up the phone, e-mails or visits them on Victory Boulevard.

And indeed, after entering the inviting Burbank headquarters I felt very welcome. On their testing stage were 2 Alexas set up to work with: The Alexa Studio and the Alexa Plus, both already equipped with the new 4:3 sensor. The Studio version was connected to a Codex Arriraw recorder and carried a massive 45-250 Alura zoom lens.

Franz Wieser and Julio Saldarriaga

Snehal Patel, a former teacher of camera technology now working full time for Arri as a sales representative gave a great overview of the two systems. Happily he explained to me the science of debayering, the process where sensor data is interpreted by the computer inside the camera and the actual digital image is created. And as he was talking it became clear why Arri is the leading company when it comes to color science. They started gathering experience many years ago through developing tools like the Arri Scanner and the Oscar winning Arri Laser which concluded in their first digital camera: the D-21.

What they learned is that it’ all about color – not about sharpness and pixel count – it’s about finding a way that the image that ends up on the screen is beautiful and able to carry emotions.

Julio and Snehal working it

That is exactly the reason when camera tests for Hollywood films and shows are conducted, they always put the actors in front of the lens and not a landscape or a car or a robot.

Not to my surprise the Alexa is by far and beyond the winner of most of these tests. I have been hearing rumors that about 95% of all TV shows are now shot on the Alexa. It’s ability to create beautiful skin tones is now already legendary.

Talking about TV shows: In a world where time is money the über-easy workflow of the Alexa is also a very convincing selling point.

Jan holding the Alexa M head

The demonstations Snehal gave us were very impressive, especially how easy it was to create a look file on set and then add it to your output image while still recording flat in Log-C.

During the time of our visit he answered many of our questions and as it turns out the Alexa is a camera that’s very easy to use and also very forgiving. It gives you the ability to focus on the creative work and not being bogged down by technical limitations and problems. There is much more written on the technical details of the camera online and of course you should visit the ARRI website for a massive amount of online support.

Julio with the Alexa Plus

All in all I have to say that I can’t wait to work on my next project using the ALEXA!